By Allison Kinney, Staff Writer
My bluegrass teacher told me you have to love a mandolin for a long time before it will show you any love in return. It’s clear that AJ Lee has earned the love of her instrument, and so have the rest of AJ Lee and Blue Summit (Jesse Fichman, Sullivan Tuttle, Chad Bowen, Jan Purat) – not all mandolinists like AJ, but fiddles and guitars need love as much as any of us do.
This band is good in the bluegrass way: they use their skill not to show off, but to build songs that are sturdy as houses, with plenty of room for guests, and ready for any weather.“Magdelene” is a single from the band’s upcoming album, I’ll Come Back, their second collection of original songs.
“One day I had the name Magdalene stuck in my head and I thought ‘someone should write a love song about her,’” AJ Lee said of the song’s inspiration.
“I don’t see many people in the Bluegrass community putting out queer content and I figured, why shouldn’t I? I would love to see more songs like this one written in the bluegrass/Americana style in the future.”
The song defies generic assumptions about who can serenade whom with a country tune. Also unusual is the absence of bitterness; though the singer’s love for Magdelene is unrequited, and she knows her “wish may not come true,” she remains devoted, determined to preserve their friendship.
“What surprised me the most was how easy it felt to write,” Lee says. “The words don’t seem really all that special but the intent is what makes it powerful”.
I think the simplicity of the words is part of their strength. The character’s intent, her need to communicate her unshakable love, are best served by clear, direct, almost conversational language. The lyrics hold a sense of the peace that comes from accepting that the road where love is leading you is rough, and its destination uncertain, but you are going to follow it come hell or unexpected husbands.
The instruments articulate as much as the lyrics do. The steadfast chop of the mandolin, the rueful long tones and hoping-against-hope vibrato of the fiddle, the sometimes-almost-lost heartbeat of the bass and the honest declarations of the guitar carry the weight of the character’s emotions so that Lee’s voice can soar through like a loyal and lovesick dragonfly.
Until I’ll Come Back is released into the wild later this summer, you can listen to “Magdelene” exclusively here on Country Queer: